Upon first viewing, this term looks like an oxymoron, two words that couldn’t possibly go together in a meaningful way.
But this philosophy, when implemented properly, is often the best path forward for many businesses as they re-evaluate management styles in this post-pandemic world.
So what is Servant Leadership? In a nutshell, it’s a recognition that people are the main asset of any company, and that they deserve to be heard.
Initially developed by an MIT research group led by Robert Greenleaf, former director of management research at AT&T, the philosophy urges a servant leader to limit micro-managing, and instead allow team members to become autonomous and free-thinking. The servant leader doesn’t see employees as people to control, but encourages all employees to contribute and grow in the company, allowing staff to let their talents flourish and develop.
It fosters an atmosphere of collaboration and trust, which is rare with classical top-down pyramidal leadership.
Collaboration is key
The challenge of a Servant Leadership mindset is to create a collaborative network, and a more agile and proactive company, in a world of constant change. To achieve your ambitions as a business, you must maintain a dynamic that encourages everyone to collaborate, co-create and stand together.
The servant-first mentality (vs. a traditional leader-first mentality) allows individuals leading companies to maintain authority without a focus on having power over every situation.
A servant leader approaches each situation from the perspective of a servant first — and how the solution will best benefit the organization and its employees.
Since 2012, ARaymond has worked under a Servant Leadership program based on six pillars — Supportive Listening, Constructive Dialogue, Collaboration, Talent Development, Delegation and Trust.
We have seen firsthand how Servant Leadership serves as a solid blueprint that can lead to both economic success for a business, as well as improved employee retention and satisfaction vs. businesses that maintain traditional leadership approaches.
Positive outcomes, lessons learned
When an organization buys into the Servant Leadership concept, the results are tangible.
By trusting employees and giving them room to contribute, learn and grow, servant leaders earn the respect of their employees more quickly.
This leads to better business outcomes, and team members growing into leadership positions organically. Happier employees are less likely to leave, and are more likely to recommend others to apply.
The shared vision between employee and leadership also leads to better trust and collaboration between all levels of the staff, and employees are more likely to be empowered and voice their opinions if they know they’ll be heard.
Over the past decade of following the Servant Leadership mindset, our team at ARaymond has learned some valuable lessons. We recognize that the best leaders are always listening and helping colleagues to grow and develop their talents. Our managers talk to employees, not at them, in a proper dialogue.
We also share in failures when they happen and learn what we can from them as a team.
We support our team members with strong healthcare and wellbeing benefits, another key element of servant leadership. Happy and healthy team members are more likely to help the business grow. So as new challenges emerge — such as the rise in mental health concerns during the COVID crisis — a Servant Leadership approach would be to recognize and address those mental health concerns among employees when it’s possible to do so.
Autonomy is another key aspect that needs to be learned by managers adapting to Servant Leadership. In employee evaluations, for example, we ask for the individual’s goals, and trust them to find the best path to reach them. Micro-managing won’t create the type of trust needed for a business to succeed long-term. Instead, a Servant Leader provides the tools for the employee to find that best path and trusts them to do so.
Even before we adopted the Servant Leadership model in 2012, ARaymond had this type of philosophy in our DNA since our founding as a family-run business over 150 years ago.
We believe that Servant Leadership is the roadmap for sustainability, and it will leave a better world and working environment behind for our children and future generations.